Industry associations including Nasscom, the US India Business Council and Indian Broadcasting Foundation have slammed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for attempting to regulate cross-media ownership. The industry bodies, in separate letters, noted that there are already government bodies such as the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to regulate anticompetitive behaviour, and therefore, TRAI does not need to bring fresh regulations at this juncture.

This comes after TRAI recently floated a consultation paper on the need, nature and levels of safeguards for issues relating to media ownership, particularly cross-media ownership and vertical integration in the broadcasting sector.

‘No actual evidence’

Top industry bodies, however, hold consensus that there is no further need for regulation in this space. Nasscom noted that TRAI is citing the need for further regulation without actual evidence for market failure, thus concluding that any regulation would, in fact, be premature. “We urge TRAI to forbear from recommending any additional regulation without demonstrable evidence,” said Nasscom.

In response to TRAI’s queries regarding whether another additional regulatory body besides SEBI and CCI is needed to overlook industry consolidation, the US India Business Council said, “In our view, concentration of media ownership is not inherently problematic for end-users, because concentration is not an automatic proxy for properly evaluating competition. One can have both a highly competitive and relatively concentrated market.”

USIBC added that if there is an abuse of dominant position or anti-competitive practices in the media sector, the CCI is already sufficiently empowered to investigate the same and issue relevant directions. USIBC also noted that TRAI’s consultation questions are based on a lot of unfounded assumptions which need to be explored further. 

‘No room left’

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation asked the regulator to give due consideration to the fundamental right of free speech that is guaranteed by the Constitution. “At the outset, it is our view that it would be fundamental to this consultation to give due consideration to the guarantee of a wide ambit of speech and expression against a very narrowly specified/applied scope for its regulation in any form, whether directly or indirectly. The stakeholders operate within the specific frameworks guided by these principles, and in the face of comprehensive frameworks, there hardly remains any legitimate room for any additional regulatory intervention.”

Major DTH players such as TATA-Play noted that no cross-media restrictions are required, rather restrictions regarding consolidation, particularly vertical integration must be lifted from the DTH sector which remains the sole vertical in the media space to have such regulations.